Thanks for reading our blog. To read from the beginning, go here. We want to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has supported us, most notably our families, our friends in Telluride, and the folks at Mountainfilm who provided the inspiration to undertake our journey and a forum to share our experience.
As you may have noticed, Jenny and I have been radio silent for the past few weeks. This silence is due to our repatriation (and the extended celebration of such). Having finally settled back into something resembling a routine, we now have the time and necessary distance to look back on our experience in Ghana.
Giving yourself over completely to a mission – in our case, the opportunity to volunteer overseas – forces you to face some tough questions once the mission is completed, the foremost being: did I make a difference?
Answering this question is difficult, as aid work can be slippery at best and counterproductive at worst. I would be preaching to the choir if I told our readers that simply throwing money around is ineffective and often serves to exacerbate a problem. Recall the parable of the hospital being built and supplied by a foreign beneficiary, only to be dismantled and sold piecemeal by corrupt officials as soon as oversight ceased.
A more successful approach has been to create circumstances where people are empowered to help themselves. (The old give-a-man-a-fish vs. teach-a-man-to-fish argument.) As pithily as I have stated it, this is, of course, an incredibly challenging task . Changing behaviors is difficult, particularly when faced with the easier, and instantly gratifying alternative of giving/accepting a handout. Adhering to this philosophy, changing behaviors and helping people help themselves is what the Social Support Foundation works toward, and it’s what we attempted to help the organization accomplish in our time there.
So, back to the difficult question: Did we make a difference? The best answer we can come up with is: hopefully. As always with aid work, results can be hard to quantify. Smaller questions are more insightful. Is the organization we volunteered with better off, having had our help? Undoubtedly. Will the organization be better equipped to advance its cause well into the future? Definitely. Are there people on the ground whose lives will be improved through our involvement? Damn. There’d better be.
Our time in Ghana supplied us with new friends, incredible experiences, and an altered perspective. Recollected from within the Telluride snowglobe, Ghana still feels like it did six months ago: distant, exotic, and somewhat imaginary. Our time there was so utterly different from any reality here that, back in our familiar haunts, it seems surreal. Would we do it again? Yes. Would we go back tomorrow? No.
At the end, we are satisfied with our time there, and look to the next adventure (though we would do a few things differently). For now, we’re happy recharging our batteries and gearing up for Mountainfilm!
—David and Jenny